28 February 2007

Turning Yourself Into an Adventure

Filed under: Culture, Ktismata, Psychology — ktismatics @ 1:45 pm

There is as much difference between us and ourselves as between us and other.

– Michel de Montaigne, 1580

I’m struck by how this fusillade of “stupefying verbiage” — Hegel’s “Master and Bondsman” discourse — anticipates so many ideas that would later come into prominence. Marxism is probably the most widely-recognized intellectual successor to Hegel’s discourse, though now it seems that 20th century political philosphers Georg Lucacs and Alexandre Kojeve may have invented this supposed lineage. What interests me more are the links to philosophical psychology.

Nietzsche called himself a psychologist rather than a philosopher. He talked a lot about the will to power, about the lordly virtues of the Greeks and Romans compared with the slave morality of the Jews and Christians — not particularly Hegelian themes, these. But then, in The Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche describes a hypothetical scenario in which enslavement turns into the conscious self. The master, his every desire fulfilled, has no need to develop intent, rationale, interest, cooperation, memory, calculation, planning, morality, conscience, or any of the other trappings of sentience. What he wants he takes. The slave, possessed of the same desires as the master but unable to fulfill them, must carve out other channels:

All instincts that are not allowed free play turn inward. This is what I call man’s interiorization; it alone provides the soil for what is later called man’s soul. Man’s interior world, originally meager and tenuous, was expanding in every dimension, in proportion as the outward discharge of his feelings was curtailed… Hostility, cruelty, the delight in persecution, raids, excitement, destruction all turned against their begetter… man began rending, persecuting, terrifying himself, like a wild beast hurling itself against the bars of its cage. This languisher, devoured by nostalgia for the desert, who had to turn himself into an adventure, a torture chamber, an insecure and dangerous wilderness — this fool, this pining and desperate prisoner, became the inventor of “bad conscience.” Also the generator of the greatest and most disastrous of maladies, of which humanity to this day has not been cured: his sickness of himself, brought on by the violent severance from his animal past, his sudden leap and fall into new layers and conditions of existence, by his declaration of war against the old instincts that had hitherto been the foundation of his power, his joy, and his awesomeness. Let me hasten to add that the phenomenon of an animal soul turning in upon itself, taking arms against itself, was so novel, profound, mysterious, contradictory, and pregnant with possibility, that the whole complexion of the universe was changed thereby. This spectacle (and the end of it is not yet in sight) required a divine audience to do it justice. It was a spectacle too sublime and paradoxical to pass unnoticed on some trivial planet. Henceforth man was to figure among the most unexpected and breathtaking throws in the game of dice played by Heraclitus’ great “child,” be he called Zeus or Chance. Man now aroused an interest, a suspense, a hope, almost a conviction — as though in him something were heralded, as though he were not a goal but a way, an interlude, a bridge, a great promise . . . .

– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, 1887

Man, his instincts thwarted by the master, be his name Father or King or Society or God, turns in on himself, with consciousness emerging from the internal struggle. In the generation after Nietzsche a prominent Viennese physician of the soul would assign new names to these concepts: id, superego, ego. It’s the working-through of Hegel’s development of self-consciousness in the bondsman.

But… Nietzsche and Freud both see self-consciousness developing in a top-down hierarchy. In Nietzsche’s scenario it’s literally the bondsmen serving a master who emerge as the first self-aware humans; for Freud every child under subjection to parents, then to the society, develops an ego. It’s as if they pick up Hegel’s master-bondsman discourse halfway through, after the dominant-submissive roles have already been established. But Hegel begins with two equals who, in confronting one another, separate into dominant and submissive. Every dyadic encounter leads to this same negotiation of status: sometimes you end up on top, sometimes on the bottom. So the individual isn’t either master or bondsman; he’s both — and that’s not even taking into account the possibility that roles can reverse themselves over the course of a relationship. So everyone has to triangulate toward self-autonomy both as the one who feeds off the other’s acclaim and as the one who has to serve it to the other.

And that’s not all. For Hegel the master-bondsman negotiation recapitulates an internal conflict between consciousness and self-consciousness. The external striving for recognition and autonomy is doubled internally. Do I serve my self-awareness, following my reasons and beliefs and calculations and plans? Or does my self-awareness serve me, figuring out ways to fulfill my desires?



  1. It’s starting to feel very crowded here in this one thin skin, crowded and pulled in many directions.

    How did these philosophers see all of this internal roil? All of this turning inward the relationships that could not be maintained externally? Desires, rejections, struggles that depended upon the other to be manifest are now are sufficient within the self, and exist with the same strength.

    Can we placate ourselves through this acknowledgement? Is knowing that this is how it works enough to take the next step? If differences between one and the other can be resolved, can peace also reign within?

    I wonder….

    Meilleurs voeux!!


    Comment by bluevicar — 1 March 2007 @ 7:49 am

  2. “I am many,” Nietzsche said, just before he went mad — maybe he wasn’t big enough. Or maybe he was disappointed because he’d become just another collective. There’s a character in Blindsight by Peter Watts whose brain has been modified to support several different personalities at once, who interact with one another constantly. Most of the brain capacity remains unused, so she figured she’d fill it up with some different perspectives. She’s — no surprise — the communications specialist on the “first contact” flight.


    Comment by ktismatics — 1 March 2007 @ 2:43 pm

  3. I guess what I have never really understood (because I haven’t seriously studied N) is how N would suggest we respond to the internal conflict. Much of what N writes seems to be hyperbole for purposes of irritating establishment philosophy and religion.

    Does N, for example, advocate a complete disregard for society/god/king/morality such that one simply pursues their animal drives and instincts? Or does he merely talk this way to keep irritating the establishment?

    For many individuals and for society as a whole a pursuit of our animal instincts would signal the complete destruction of the self and of society. Serial killers, rapists, child abusers, the violent, etc. would be uninhibited in pursuing their darkest impulses. But surely this means a perversion and moral corruption of the self.

    Most of us would agree that allowing our “animal” instincts to take over is not the most desirable scenario. For example, if a married man desires a family that is stable and loving he can’t follow through (on a regular basis) with his sexual appetites for other women. There is sort of a trade-off and a pursuit of what he believes will make himself and his family happy in the long run.


    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 1 March 2007 @ 4:34 pm

  4. In the quote in my post he’s saying that slave morality is what makes mankind an interesting species, full of promise. Is he being ironic or serious? Next meditation he’ll reverse positions 180 degrees. In my reading of Nietzsche he’s demonstrating how something’s strength can also be its weakness, but then it becomes a strength again. Every system has its own disruption within itself. This is deconstruction and Nietzsche is Derrida’s teacher in how to play this game. There is no landing on what Nietzshe really believes, just as (in my opinion) you can’t define the essential Derrida. When the foundations can be rocked over and over, things like selves and moralities become creations rather than discoveries, judged on aesthetic criteria. Nietzsche is no nihilist; he’s an advocate of difference and multiplicity, of experimentation and reconstruction rather than destruction.


    Comment by ktismatics — 1 March 2007 @ 4:59 pm

  5. Good point. That’s kind of the direction I was thinking as well…..

    It’s interesting, though, b/c many Christian apologists have taken N as a nihilist, or they have at the very least used him as an advocate for what might happen if we as individuals and as a society took God out of the equation. That nihilism is the natural result of a godless society. I think this might be how Groothuis reads N, but I’m not sure. I know Gr has studied N, and I would be interested on what he thought of your take on N and Derrida.


    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 1 March 2007 @ 5:39 pm

  6. I acknowledge that it’s tough to pin down the “real” Nietzsche. He writes against nihilism fairly often: Life itself is to my mind the instinct for growth, for durability, for an accumulation of forces, for power: where the will to power is lacking there is decline. It is my contention that all the supreme values of mankind lack this will—that the values which are symptomatic of decline, nihilistic values, are lording it under the holiest names. Nihilism is the sign of a despairing, morally weary soul. Suicide is the deed of nihilism. He recognizes pessimism as a preliminary form of nihilism. Nietzsche describes nihilism as nothing more than nausea mixed with pity.

    Nietzsche certainly did not believe in God. He held that truth and morality have no absolute and objective foundation. As Western society came to grips with this radical relativism, it would become subject to a nihilism that would attempt to destroy everything. Nietzsche warned against this destructive impulse. His position was that we had to come to grips with the loss of foundation through belief, decision, action, will — to create truth and meaning even if it couldn’t be grounded in anything absolute. At least that’s how I read him. But he is prone to cynicism, anger, despair, loss of hope. He’s human, all too human, and he lets it show in his writing. He says philosophy is the most personal of all kinds of writing, reflecting the personality of the philosopher. Interesting dude, Nietzsche.


    Comment by ktismatics — 2 March 2007 @ 6:47 pm

  7. John,

    Its good to see someone whose read enough Neitche to seem to have figured out what on earth he’s actually saying. I believe you. Now, I think, though…that even if most Christians acutally heard what he was really saying, it would appear a little less repulsive, yet still unacceptable. I think maybe though they would blame him for less of what they take to be the problems with the world than what they are often prone to do.



    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 2 March 2007 @ 11:38 pm

  8. Jonathan and Jason –

    I suspect most of those who follow in Nietzsche’s wake, which includes most of those labeled postmodernists, are unacceptable to the Christian worldview on the deepest level. They’re almost universally atheistic, relativistic. They recognize their embeddedness in the Judeo-Christian tradition, but they “mythologize” it, seeing it as metaphorical for political, economic, and psychosocial phenomena.

    The emerging post-evangelical interest in postmodern theorists: how much of it do you think is an attempt to understand the secular worldview of today’s mission field? How much is an attempt to “open up” the traditional Christian worldview to alternative ways or seeing things?


    Comment by ktismatics — 3 March 2007 @ 5:36 am

  9. Beyond me…shoot, I dunno. I would say, though, that much emerging post-evangelical interest in postmodern theorists is an interest not so much in becoming “relevant”, as it is sometimes described, but in formulating a world-view that is more reconciled to sensible living – particularly after modernity’s conceptualization of the world and the self. Additionally I would say that it often gets debated whether much of the need to “open up” is because of Christianity’s exclusivistic claims…rather actually it is assumed to be the reason for the need to “open up”.

    But I don’t think that has as much to do with it as modernity’s conceptualization of everything. Concepts, sort of, reside in the heavens. Its from the heavens where one attain’s a God’s-eye view. Claims of exlusivity are much different before those making them ARE cogito-beings “operating” on the world.

    Contemporary Christians who don’t understand this fact of modern history, and – because of Christianity’s exclusivistic claims – see “opening up” as “secularized” “pluralism”, as condemable tyranny.

    Bob Marley says “I’m sick and tired of the ‘isms’ schisms game, Lord/ Died and gone to heaven in the Jesus name, Lord.” The wierd problem is that everyone can attach themselves to that statement. New Agers love it. Buddahists love it. But Christians hate it, siting Hallisee Lasee and Rastafari’s falsehood. What NONE of them understand, probably including the prophet Mr. Marley himself, is how indebted the very complaint embedded in the lyrics is to MODERN history and theory in the first place.

    I think that’s a problem. Its like saying, “The wing of the airplane is broken…MECHANIC…go FIX THE DAMN ENGINE or else we’re gonna CRASH!” Now that I think of it, I think this is why Peter Rollins thought it unhealthy to study medieval mystics by themselves in an isolated fashion.

    Interesting, too, folks in and out of the sheepfold can both observe the broken wing and work on fixing it together. But no one inside the plane can SEE the engine (what actually propells the plane); and I think fixing the engine is a different story :)


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 3 March 2007 @ 9:07 pm

  10. That’s good. I understand that Christian faith influences the entirety of life and worldview. Even so, it’s not clear how much is the direct hand/voice of God and how much is cultural expectations and unwarranted presuppositions. Again, this is even if you have no doubts about God himself. But I’m sure I don’t need to tell you these things.

    Conversely, a lot of the non-Christian worldview has been shaped by Christianity. That’s where guys like Dawkins seem to lack self-awareness, and also where some of the postmoderns are prepared to acknowledge their debts.


    Comment by ktismatics — 5 March 2007 @ 12:24 am

  11. It is also interesting how so many “postmodern” writers blur the secular/sacred distinction. (As they blur so many traditional dichotomies.) Guys like Derrida don’t mind exploring religious themes, even if they might consider themselves more agnostic/atheistic.


    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 5 March 2007 @ 4:09 am

  12. John,

    I’m with you on how non-Christians have been influenced by Christianity…but who is Dawkins?

    As for unwarrented presuppositions, see your recent post on Girand…that there’s some point where cultural and eternal presuppositions converge. As David Fitch said in some obscure footnote to his book, just because Scriptural interpretation is partially governed by historical and contextual forces does not mean that there is no meaning beyond that. And I recently read an encyclical by Pope Jean Paul II in which he talked about how doctrine, although often influenced or colored by the culture in which it was formed, still formulates an unchanging truth. I would question that on some doctrine, but the point remains.



    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 5 March 2007 @ 7:04 pm

  13. Dawkins is an evolutionary scientist who is an outspoken critic of belief in God. He uses empirical arguments to say that God is an unnecessary variable in all equations about how the universe operates. He thinks that faith is irrational and should be exposed for the sham that is demonstrably is. A lot of Christian bloggers criticize him as being a scientific fundamentalist, similar to the religious fundamentalists he criticizes. Both, it’s claimed, are held hostage by modern empirical ideas of truth and evidence.

    Of course the discussion of whether religion can be reduced without remainder to historical and contextual forces is perhaps the signifying divide between theism and atheism. Is there any remainder, any excess, any transcendence? And I suppose if there is a divine surplus, does it add incrementally to the natural or does it subsume and transform the natural?


    Comment by ktismatics — 6 March 2007 @ 12:13 am

  14. Add incrementally or subsume and transform? I’m gonna go with both, at least sort of. Jacobs ladder is “increments”, but the angels go up AND down. Neoplatonic emmanation is in increments, but the breath of the divine is in AND out.


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 6 March 2007 @ 10:07 pm

  15. Then there’s Jesus, of course…Incarnated, Ascended, and Presently Risen (third between the two, maybe…sort of).


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 6 March 2007 @ 10:08 pm

  16. Jason — I like the idea of the bidircctional incremental ladder between earth and heaven, and the in-out breath of God, who is already breathing in Genesis 1:2. It’s a good question about Jesus: hybrid middle ground, or entirely other third point of the triangle?


    Comment by ktismatics — 7 March 2007 @ 1:27 pm

  17. Hybrid middle ground or entirely other third point? Is that a question between Pythagoras and Isiah, or between traditional Christians and Gnostic Christianity?


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 8 March 2007 @ 7:16 pm

  18. I wonder what are the emergent properties of a man who is also a god. Or is Jesus some third category, the mediator between God and man, the sacrifice that slips in between, the Christ of the gaps? Between knowledge and truth, between desire and fulfillment, between self and self-awareness, between master and servant.


    Comment by ktismatics — 8 March 2007 @ 8:09 pm

  19. What do you mean by “emergent properties”? I guess that’s the question, though, huh? Ha ha.

    And I think the Christian idea isn’t that he slips between, but that he takes all of those things on for himself. “Slips between” (two things) happens after the particular tearing apart that occured with modernity. But in God all things hold together. At least that’s my “impression”. But I think I see what you are saying…in reference to Lacan and gaps and the void that we talked about before. Again, sounds like a bit more of a gnostic Jesus, no?



    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 9 March 2007 @ 6:27 pm

  20. The emergent properties of being son of God/man I guess are the things that Jesus was and did — ways of being in the world that aren’t just a middle ground between god and man but some different third way. And I guess you’re right: the NT position is that Jesus absorbs everything into himself, or perhaps pulls everything through the in-between-ness of a solitary death/resurrection. I, on the other hand, live in a reality where Jesus is man and not god, or at least not a god that’s totally different from a man. Is there the slightest transcendence that speaks to the gaps between belief and truth, between popularity and excellence, between myself and myself? Is there a weak force at work here rather than a strong one, but a weak force that lifts man above himself just a little increment? That to me would be remarkable indeed.


    Comment by ktismatics — 9 March 2007 @ 10:28 pm

  21. Oh, that. Gotcha, I think. Meister Eckhard talks about “the little castle in the soul”. Which for him is very connected to the void, although not the same. Nonetheless, though, when you go through the void to the littel castle…you get to what I think of as my “portion” of God. But its just that…my “portion”. Without the original big-huge-overflowing vase, then I’m not sure how to answer your question at all…??? I mean, from your frame of reference…what was “transendence” for an ancient Greek? Glory, or the spiritual that’s just imbued in matter (where the spiritual is basically just the mysterious that you don’t see, but not exactly or only that)? As an example the Gks wouldn’t touch a dead body (except a priest, I guess). It was sacred for them.


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 10 March 2007 @ 7:01 am

  22. BTW speaking of death and the Gks. I think maybe with your question, that our conversation is taking a turn toward your most recent post on Heidegger, death, angst and triviliazation from Being and Time.


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 10 March 2007 @ 7:05 am

  23. I think that’s right. I’m thinking about post-liberal John Caputo and “The Weakness of God”: taking the name of God as the name of a call rather than a causality, of a provocation rather than of a presence or a determinate entity… The name of God is what can happen to being, of what being would become, of what rising up from below being pushes beyond being itself, outside itself, as being’s hope, being’s desire.


    Comment by ktismatics — 10 March 2007 @ 7:36 am

  24. Its kind of funny to me that the Romans considered the Christians athiests, but now Caputo is an anthiest. I mean, the reasons are obvious. But obviously too there aren’t many invovled in the conversation who think of it the way wer are taught to define atheism in grade school (the modern scientist’s way, btw).


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 10 March 2007 @ 8:56 am

  25. “…but now Caputo is an atheist…”…oops


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 10 March 2007 @ 8:56 am

  26. Really? Does Caputo say he’s an atheist, or have the theists decided for him?


    Comment by ktismatics — 10 March 2007 @ 9:38 am

  27. The theists have decided for him, I’m pretty sure. Which was kinda my point, lol.


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 11 March 2007 @ 12:14 am

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    Comment by cod crack — 30 July 2014 @ 6:28 pm

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